By Richard Pryor, III
It was the kind of tweet that you would like if your friend from high school Daryl sent it—“Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” But when your high school friend Daryl is actually Daryl Morey, General Manager of the National Basketball Association (NBA)’s Houston Rockets, the tweet becomes much more incendiary.
Since June, citizens of Hong Kong have been protesting against the actions of their “elected” leadership and what they see as a move towards autocracy and bringing the city, which is supposed to be governed as “one country, two systems” (Chinese and British systems) closer to the whims of Beijing and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
So why is China hacked off about this one NBA executive’s tweet? The NBA’s presence in China is worth $5 billion, according to an estimate from Sports Business Journal. And the Rockets, widely regarded as one of the most loved teams in China due to the fame of former Rockets center and Chinese national Yao Ming, could lose up to $25 million due to this, according to The New York Times’s Marc Stein. Ming is also the Chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association, which has suspended ties with the NBA.
Additionally, after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that Morey won’t face any discipline for his free speech, the Chinese state media, CCTV, released an editorial which stated that Silver had “problems in his character” and “will receive retribution sooner or later.” However, he and other leading figures in the NBA are still trying to thread the needle of accepting the larger American opposition to China’s actions in Hong Kong, while still ensuring that the NBA can be accessed in the world’s largest non-American economy.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is recorded having said that “no one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” While he’s talking in a different context, it works here too – the NBA cannot support human rights and stand idly by as China does what it will.
In 2016, the NBA moved the All-Star Game away from Charlotte, North Carolina, after the state legislature passed a bill barring transgender people from using their bathroom of choice. China is doing much worse things to many more people – their genocide of the Uyghurs, the control of the free press, the removal of opponents to Jinping’s regime, and much more.
It is absurd and hypocritical to serve two masters as all the actions in this saga show us – the NBA need to clear up what they believe. Or else it will become yet another South Park, another Facebook, or another Winnie the Pooh – something banned by a tinpot dictator attempting to run the world.